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Hickenlooper ousts Gardner in Colorado, handing Democrats vital pickup

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperColorado delegation wants Biden to stop Space Command move to Alabama Moderates vow to 'be a force' under Biden Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE is projected to defeat GOP Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (Colo.), handing Democrats a key pickup.

Hickenlooper’s victory, projected by Fox News and MSNBC, brings the Colorado seat back into the Democratic column after Gardner rode a GOP wave in 2014 to defeat then-Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallHickenlooper ousts Gardner in Colorado, handing Democrats vital pickup Live updates: Democrats fight to take control of the Senate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (D) that helped hand Republicans the majority.

Gardner was widely viewed as the most vulnerable Senate GOP incumbent up for reelection. Gardner was one of two GOP senators trying to win a state carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonEverytown urges Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to resign over newly uncovered remarks Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed support on Facebook for violence against Democrats McConnell last spoke to Trump on Dec. 15 MORE in 2016; Colorado’s demographics have only become more favorable for Democrats since then.

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Gardner has said he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election, but he’s stuck closely to the president over the past four years. Gardner voted with Trump nearly 92 percent of the time in the 115th Congress and more than 83 percent of the time in the 116th Congress, when the GOP senator was formally in cycle, according to the data website FiveThirtyEight.

Though Colorado has been a purple-trending-blue state for years, it has had at least one GOP senator for more than 80 of the last 100 years. With Hickenlooper’s victory, the state will have two Democratic senators, with Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command Colorado delegation wants Biden to stop Space Command move to Alabama The Economist hires former NYT editor who resigned following Cotton editorial MORE up for reelection in 2022.

Hickenlooper, who served as governor of Colorado and mayor of Denver, secured an early lead in the polls after fending off a primary challenge from the left in the form of former state House Speaker Andrew Romano. Colorado is one of two seats currently held by Senate Republicans, the second being Arizona, that was ranked by The Cook Political Report as leaning toward Democrats.

A consistent string of polls in recent months showed Hickenlooper having anywhere from a high single-digit to a double-digit lead, making Democrats feel confident about their chances of defeating Gardner. Underscoring the Democratic optimism, Senate Majority PAC, the top Democratic super PAC, scrapped its $1.2 million television buy in the final weeks of the campaign.

Gardner tried, unsuccessfully, to nationalize the race by focusing on the Supreme Court fight over Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettRubio reintroduces amendment to block court packing Undoing Trump will take more than executive orders Political peace starts with everyday interactions MORE and the ongoing Democratic debate on expanding the Supreme Court. Republicans were hoping for a redux of 2018, when several Democrats who opposed then-nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughUndoing Trump will take more than executive orders LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday MORE lost.

But Hickenlooper largely sidestepped the issue, though he told The Denver Post in a statement that he was “not crazy about the idea of court packing.”